Adventures in Idaho

Over the holidays, with a rare bit of time off, I was dying to go somewhere, so I told Jan we had to do something (like that for a specific wish list?). He suggested Sun Valley, Idaho—a place neither of us had ever visited, and not too far for us to drive with all our ski gear. Besides, Jan had a coworker who lived nearby who once suggested we visit if we were ever in the vicinity.

It had been a strange weather year with our nearby Sierras still lacking snow, so a good ski vacation seemed perfect for us to finally realize that the season was, in fact, winter.

In typical fashion for us, we embarked without much of a plan.

“Who’s your friend we’re visiting?” I asked Jan, curious for some more details.

“Desiree. You’ve met her before,” he replied, sure that would stop my questions.

“Hmm,” I said. “Maybe.”  I knew he was probably right, but I’d met so many different people from Jan’s work that I couldn’t put a face to her name, but realized it didn’t really matter.  “Where does she live?”

“I don’t know,” Jan said. “She texted me her address. Her and her husband Brandon have a place there.”

OK. Jan was getting annoyed. I wasn’t going to ask any more questions. I was going to take care of my one and only job in getting ready for any road trip: packing the snacks.

What pieces I did get of the plan, was that we were leaving in the evening, since Jan had to work the day of our departure, and we would spend the night with some of his old friends near Sacramento. The next day, we would drive the rest of the way to Idaho.

It was dark by the time we were past Boise, and by dark, I mean DARK. After leaving the city limits, there was not one single street light or even a reflector to be found.  It was probably better we didn’t see what was around us, since our GPS said we were following along a river and there were absolutely no guardrails to what looked to be steep drop down. Without going off on too big of a tangent here, I just want to say how AMAZING our drive time is with the small investment of our GPS. It is a Garmin, it comes with lifetime map updates, and it has made road trips infinitely more peaceful for me and Jan. It is one of those devices where we wonder why we didn’t get it before, though we somehow survived our month-long road trip through the Southwest (link: Reminiscing on the Vantastic Voyage) without it, and managed to stay married.

But as much as I love the GPS, it isn’t foolproof, and unfortunately can’t account for house addresses that have not yet been updated to any type of map, which was the situation we found ourselves when looking for Desiree and Brandon’s house in Donnelly, Idaho.  In this case, when we were finally able to get into a place where our cell phone had one bar of service, it was that device that saved us, and we managed to finally find ourselves at the right place, exhausted, hungry, but ready for adventure.

Our hosts fed us a much welcome dinner, and yes, I did in fact remember who Desiree was, and Jan and I got along perfectly with her and her husband, Brandon. Instead of being weirded out by the fact that we actually took them up on their offer to visit, they were thrilled, and we had a great night of talking and laughing, and planning activities for the next few days before Jan and I would depart on our own for Sun Valley.

The next day, we headed to the nearby Tamarack Resort, which was just up the road in the Peyette River Mountains. A few years ago, there were big plans for development of the resort, but it went bankrupt midway through construction, leaving empty ski runs, lifts, and the shell of a beautifully modern/rustic ski lodge. The nearby residents who still wanted to ski joined together to keep the skiing open, but the planned lodge and village looked like a ghost town.

Also looking ominous that day was the weather, but we were so optimistic and enthusiastic about our new friends and skiing together, we headed up the lift. We skied through the rain for a while, and even made it through a treacherous run that the resort probably shouldn’t have opened up, but soon headed back to home base to warm up with a nice dinner.

Jan, Desiree, and Brandon on the lift

The next day involved some exploring in McCall, Idaho, where Jan found condiment heaven (read about him stocking more than half our refrigerator at home full of condiments here: An Abundance of Condiments) at Paradise Burgers, and I was thrilled to be able to swap my French fries for tater tots. It was a fun place to eat a burger (I had bacon/blue cheese and Jan had the gyro burger with beef patty topped with lamb gyro strips and tzatziki sauce) and sample the wide selection of sauces to sprinkle on our burgers and dip our fries (and tots!) into.

At Paradise Burger, it was difficult to decide what condiment to grab first!

The day also included grocery shopping at Ridley’s Family Markets, where I was WAY too amused by the fact that shoppers could purchase their groceries and guns in the same location.

I was amused by the fact that, had we wanted to, we could put our groceries and guns on the same tab

That night, we visited Brundage Mountain Resort where Desiree worked during the winter season, and enjoyed their pre-New Year’s bonfire (I was wondering why all the cars driving up the hill had Christmas trees strapped to their roofs!), concert, and fireworks.

We were in need of a somewhat lazy day the next day, so we all took a drive along the Salmon River. We visited the Rapid River Fish Hatchery, where seeing millions of tiny Chinook Salmon made me hungry for some salmon. We had the next best thing near Riggins Hot Springs, where we stopped to eat delicious fried egg sandwiches made by Brandon, and also where Jan immediately embarked on the manly endeavor of throwing big rocks into the frozen river in an attempt to crack the ice (see the photo sequence at the top of this post). On the way home, we picked up Japapeno cheddar elk sausage at Mountain View Specialty Meats, which we barbecued along with tri tip for dinner.

A very cold looking Salmon River
Sandwiches along the Salmon River
Tasty jalapeno-cheddar elk sausage

The next day, Jan and I left for Sun Valley, and stopped in Boise for lunch. Unable to decide on a single location to eat, we split a pesto pizza slice at the Pie Hole, then a Banh Mi sandwich and spring rolls at Baguette Deli.

Pesto pizza at Boise’s “Pie Hole”

After a few hours of driving, we arrived in Sun Valley, Idaho, where we faced a minor travel setback when the condo we had booked for the night through an online booking site already had guests staying there that night. It was one of those typical travel moments where, in it, you feel like the situation could easily get stressful and overly dramatic, but you remind yourself that things will work out. After calling around to a few hotels, we finally found a place at the base of Bald Mountain, just a few blocks away from the main downtown Ketchum area. The only thing that had me worried was the fact that the next night was New Year’s Eve, and the hotel didn’t have any rooms available for the next night. As we settled into our room and began to bundle up for a walk downtown, I got a call back from the condo owner, who explained that this was the first time she’d used the booking service, and was very apologetic for the misunderstanding. We agreed that we would stay in the condo the next night, and Jan and I realized that things had worked out in the best possible way—this way, we were in walking distance from downtown for the night, and the next day, would experience completely different surroundings.

We were told that THE place to eat was the Pioneer Saloon, and since it was still early, we stopped in to get our name on the list, and continue our walk.  We found one of the most unique Starbucks—I was amazed by the building’s unique architecture, Jan was amazed that the Starbucks was one of five (at the time, I heard they are now expanded this concept to more across the country) to serve wine. I even had Jan snap my picture with the life-size photos of Ernest Hemmingway that graced the “visitor info” section of the Starbucks, and bored poor Jan with more Hemingway facts than he cared about.

Getting on the list
Wine at Starbucks!
Trying out the handy crossing flags placed at each intersection in Ketchum

After a few hours of milling through the town and enjoying the lightly falling snow (so romantic!), we dined at Pioneer Saloon in Ketchum. There, we enjoyed delicious prime rib and buffalo burgers. Jan said it was the best prime rib he had ever eaten. And that the restaurant had the best service he had ever experienced. He was in love. (And you must understand that it is very rare for Jan to make this kind of proclamation, so you know it had to be good!) The baked potato (Idaho grown, of course) was pretty good, too.

High on an amazing dinner, we wandered down the street for some creatively named cocktails at the Sawtooth Club, where the people-watching was fascinating.

The next day was filled with skiing at Bald Mountain, where I finally learned the reason for the existence of enclosed gondola lifts.  At 18°F at the base of the mountain, I was thankful for any time I could spend sheltered from the weather.  I know, I’m a fair weather skier.

Skiing tip: if you’re skiing in 18-degree weather, don’t leave your gear in the car the night before! Your boots will be so frozen you can’t get them on your feet!

We had an excellent day of skiing (thank you sunny skies for finally coming out!) and then shopped for groceries for our New Year’s Eve in. Spotting caviar, giant bottles of champagne, and lobster tails all in one location, I had to hold Jan back a bit, though if what we ended up with was the edited-down version, I’m curious what the unedited would have been!

Shopping Jan
The lock on the caviar only made Jan more hungry

Cozy in our condo, we got a fire going, hopped in the hot tub and sauna for a bit, and got together all the pieces for our dinner. Jan’s mission was to make a smörgåsbord for the ages, so that meant in addition to the caviar and lobster tails, there was liver pâté, Italian Capocollo, shrimp cocktail, French bread, grapes, and a diverse assortment of cheeses. Jan served the caviar on thin crackers with cream cheese since we were not able to find crème fraîche. The caviar was not as bad as I was expecting, and the cream cheese and cracker that I’d placed it on helped balance the flavor.

Just chillin’
Interesting appetizer/candy bar
Not much room on the table left for our plates!
Can’t forget the lobster tails

Around 11 p.m., we realized that we probably wouldn’t make it until midnight. The champagne was ready and chilling in the refrigerator, but I blamed the full day of skiing and the lobster tail, instead of admitting that we were, perhaps, getting old.  Happy New Year, woohoo!

The next morning, we left somewhat early since we knew the drive home would be about 14 hours. Our last Idaho stop was over the Snake River near Twin Falls, Idaho, where we quickly snapped a few photos overlooking the wide river gorge, and picked up a pizza to take with us in the car. We were California-bound, and, like we get at the end of any vacation, no matter how much of a good time we had, were ready to be back home.

Armed with frozen Diet Coke, headed for home

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